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Smiles, Everyone: James Tynion Makes The Joker a Star

Smiles, Everyone: James Tynion Makes The Joker a Star

By Albert Ching Tuesday, March 9th, 2021

The Joker is one of the most famous characters in comic book history—okay, in pop culture history—but despite the Clown Prince of Crime’s higher-than-ever profile, this week marks the start of only his second solo ongoing series, and the first in 45 years.

And what a time for The Joker #1 from writer James Tynion IV and his frequent Batman collaborator, artist Guillem March to arrive, with the Joker the most wanted man in the world after the attack on Arkham Asylum in last week’s Infinite Frontier #0. An international manhunt is on, with James Gordon pursuing the Joker across the globe. Each issue of The Joker will also feature a Punchline back-up story co-written by Sam Johns and Tynion and illustrated by Mirka Andolfo, following the post-“Joker War” exploits of the breakout Bat-villain of 2020.

DC Nation spoke with Tynion about what it means to write the Joker separated from Batman, why now is the right time for this series, collaborating with March on this “horror noir” story, and the “even more dangerous” threats building in the Punchline story.

This is the first ongoing series starring the Joker in decades. What made now the right time?

I don’t think the Joker has ever loomed larger in the culture. We’re coming off an acclaimed, billion-dollar grossing movie, and almost all the top-selling DC comics of the last year had the Clown Prince of Crime up front and center. He is one of the greatest villains in all of fiction, and one of the most devilishly fun characters to write in all of DC.

I think a Joker book in a lot of ways was inevitable… But that’s where the challenge is. If you separate Joker away from Batman, who is he? What is a Joker book if it’s not a Batman vs. Joker book? When (DC group editor) Ben Abernathy first approached me about the idea, I laid out all the reasons a Joker book shouldn’t work. Why the Joker couldn’t work as a protagonist. But as I was laying them out, I started to see the potential for what a book like this could be. How we could approach it from an angle that would surprise everyone and say some real things about the nature of human evil…and do it not as a superhero book, but as a real horror noir title. Thankfully, DC was on board from the start.

You’re coming off a major Joker story in last year’s “The Joker War.” How is this a continuation of that story? What new aspects of the character are you looking to explore? 

“The Joker War” set a lot of things in motion. Joker wanted to tear down Batman’s comfortable world and he succeeded at that. Batman has lost Wayne Enterprises and his immense wealth, and the city is fractured and angry. A new mayor has taken power in the city with an anti-superhero agenda and citizens are wearing clown masks and chanting outside the courthouse to free Punchline.

It’s clear that there are long-term threads the Joker has planted that will culminate with him coming back to Gotham to have another row with Batman down the road… But part of the opportunity of this story is to explore where Joker goes when he falls completely off the map and even Batman can’t find him. What shadowy corners of the global criminal underworld does he slip between, and who are his allies in that world…and more importantly, who are his enemies?

Jim Gordon has had a rough couple of years, including being infected by the Batman Who Laughs in “Year of the Villain.” Where do we find him here? 

Retired! After the events of last year, he’s made the decision not to return to the commissioner’s seat. But without that job, he’s unsure what to make of his life. This is heightened by the recent death of his son, James Gordon, Jr., in the events surrounding “The Joker War.” He’s haunted by how much the Joker has taken from his life, and when the offer is placed in front of him to help track Joker down before he can attack Gotham City again? How can Jim Gordon say no to that?

You’ve worked with Guillem March extensively in Batman. What made him perfect for a Joker series? 

Going back to when we first worked together on the Talon series, I’ve always been in love with how Guillem handles horror in his comics art. He was the only artist we ever considered for the book, and honestly, I think he’s turning in the best work of his career. The first five pages in particular are going to knock people’s socks off.

But what I am most excited about is to do something that lives much more fully in the noir space. This is a book about dangerous people moving through the shadows of the world and one good man trying to hold true to his morality in the face of temptation, rage and horror. I can also say, like in Batman, we are working together to develop some exciting new characters to flesh out some characters’ mythologies. There’s a character coming in the second issue of The Joker who I think could be the Punchline of this next year, in terms of breakout potential.

What can you say about the journey Punchline is on in the second feature of the series? Will her story interact with the Joker’s?

The Joker and Punchline clearly had a plan for when “The Joker War” fell apart and that plan is playing out now in Gotham City. The way I see it is that the Joker story will take us to whole new shadowy corners of the world, as we see his reach and the reach of his enemies…but the Punchline story is laying the groundwork for something even more dangerous.

The back-up features will bring back the whole team from the Punchline one-shot—Mirka Andolfo and Sam Johns—and we’re going to keep exploring what these dangerous clowns’ agendas really might be. Ultimately these threads will clash together, but at the start, they’ll run parallel as Punchline keeps growing and spreading the Joker ideology in Gotham City.
 

The Joker #1 by James Tynion IV, Guillem March, Arif Prianto and Tom Napolitano (also featuring a Punchline story by Sam Johns, James Tynion IV, Mirka Andolfo, Romulo Fajardo Jr and Ariana Maher) is now available in print and as a digital comic book.